Our generation is living in a society that is working very hard to be more inclusive than previous generations. This is a society that strives for political correctness, equality and social justice. Many of the changes that come upon our world will be seen at the hands of millennials like us. Throughout all of these movements and changes, several buzzwords have come into play and are frequently heard when describing revolution. Specifically, words that refer to gender, race, and sexuality come to mind: racism, diversity, homophobia, misogyny, etc. But perhaps instead of rushing to socially persecute individuals who are racist, homophobic and misogynistic, we should look first to educate them on these matters.
University campuses, in general, represent a wide range of people. When students come to college, they are leaving their respective bubbles they were born and raised in and they are venturing to a new community. With change like this, it is inevitable that individuals are going to come in contact with new and different groups of people than they had ever encountered in high school. This exposure to new things is one of the most important types of education that college students will receive. However, there is also an inevitability that these new experiences will lead to discomfort, and that is okay.
Current events show people are quick to react when they feel others are attacking their characteristics, traits and beliefs. This reaction is often valid, put simply; it sucks when people make assumptions about your entire person based on one thing about you. These stereotypes often stem from from ignorance: the “lack of education, knowledge or awareness” of something, according to the Merriam Webster’s dictionary definition. People are quick to dismiss people who are “ignorant” and see them as the people who are perpetuating negative stereotypes in society.
In reality, ignorance is not bliss, but rather it is an opportunity for education. The idea of faulting another person’s privilege is not a way to fix these problems in society. It is not necessarily fair to blame somebody’s privilege for their lack of insight into other human experiences. However, I have learned firsthand that rather than combating ignorance with anger, I can use those awkward moments to further an explanation as to why people have certain thoughts and how I can change those thoughts.
When I came out as gay, I was immediately inundated with questions and microaggressions. Many of them were uncomfortable at first and a lot made me very angry. “When did you decide to be gay?” “Are you going to wear guy’s clothes now?” “But what does your religion say about your choice?” However, it occurred to me that the vast majority of people asking these questions were not doing it because they were trying to upset me, they just truly had no knowledge of the subject.
I had to come to terms with the fact that just because I was raised in an inclusive town and had exposure to people all over the sexuality spectrum, not everybody had those same experiences. Rather than lecture my friends and family on why what they were saying was not okay, I used it as an opportunity to educate them and patiently answer their questions. To my surprise, once they were educated, they became more aware of what they were saying and even took it upon themselves to educate others when they heard examples of ignorance.
Don’t get me wrong, for every person that you can educate about minorities and differences in society there will be others who continue to spread hate. These people, despite being educated, will continue to stereotype and discriminate against others. These people do not deserve your time or sympathy and might never change. These people’s viewpoints should not be chalked up to ignorance either, but rather a conscious belief that they carry with them. My thoughts are, to an extent, limited to my experience. However, ignorance rears its head at all different demographics: individuals with disabilities, mental health issues, religious differences, and those who are different races and ethnicities. The point I am trying to make is that education goes a long way in changing the minds of other people. Instead of shying away from ignorance I think it is an effective way to open a dialogue about things that are sometimes uncomfortable.